East Anglian Regional Meeting of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society, at Wicken Fen, on Saturday 3rd October 2015
It was with good fortune I found myself in West Norfolk at the same time as the East Anglia Members’ Meeting on October 3rd.
Going back to Wicken Fen after many years away brought back many memories of my first years as a member of the WSRS, when our Spring meetings were held there for some years. You could say my wildlife sound recording learning curve began there. I am pleased to say that it still continues, as during the day a great deal was learnt by those members attending, both newcomers and old. The assembled throng only amounted to seven members, which one has to say was disappointing, especially when one considers the efforts made to organise it in the first place. More had indicated they would be there, but did not materialise, —their loss.
After initial hellos to the organisers Bob and Margaret (who cannot be thanked enough for their efforts), we started the meeting promptly at 11.00am with a few prepared, and very salient, questions about wildlife sound recording and its future.
Questions, such as :-
Is sound recording in this country finished? Are we obsessed by background noise and clinical backgrounds? If we are not travellers then is our hobby finished? Did we ought to be thinking about the acceptance of background noise and integrating it into our recordings? Use of gun mics, remote mics, sound shadows, captive recording, etc.
Use of the website. Are we all regular users? How can people be encouraged to use the website? Facebook and Twitter?
Indexing and archiving recordings. In the “old days” we used to have boxes of tapes and cassettes and piles of MiniDiscs, now we have SD cards. We have all probably got thousands of JPG photographs but can we find any of them again or even use them? Does the same apply to sound recordings? Do people have a system?
Use of recordings. Do people just store them away, work on competition entry or have other uses for them?
After discussion we all agreed that if recording for “research/scientific” was the purposes, then there should be no problem, as long as the subject being recorded and the offending human-made noise have no overlapping frequencies. Modern software can eradicate any problems, if used properly, but it was also agreed that it is sometimes very difficult to isolate sound without the risk of loosing part or parts of the subject’s sound.
As for “soundscapes/biophonies”, that has become much more difficult, and the consensus was that sometimes it is impossible. If the recordist is to succeed he/she must do his/her homework, get up early, etc., but hasn’t that always been the case?
The future of the WSRS, the website and the use of internet forums such as Facebook and Twitter, created a lively debate. To be honest, the majority of the members there were of an age that found the use of such forums alien, but it was agreed that the Society should be thinking of the future by encouraging a much better use of the website. Doubt was expressed by the younger members present that for this to happen the website has to be more dynamic, with the view that it would then be more attractive to the modern member and with that, a much improved usage of the site would be created.
Everybody there wished this to happen, but agreed that there would be difficulties faced by the Officers of the Society to find a younger, more “streetwise” member who would take on the task, and bring the website to a better user level, a process that would need constant attention.
These discussions had to be concluded as the buffet lunch was spread out in the adjoining room. Informal discussions took place while we eat, those savoury and sweet delights so generously provided by Bob and Margaret (Margaret doing most of the work of course!!)
On our return to the meeting side of the building we continued with the playing of recordings provided by those members present. This was greatly enjoyed by all, whether it was soundscapes or individual species recordings. Of particular note were the ultrasound recordings presented by Bill and the good work done by Doug on Cetti’s Warbler song. Bill provided us with detailed recordings and their analysis for recognition purposes of both short- and long-winged Coneheads (see attached files). He then went on to play the sound of a communication between male and female Wood Mouse!! and finally the contact mic recording of a Tree Bumble Bee nest, a recording that has amazed the leading Bumble Bee experts.
Spectrogram of wood mouse calls
If that wasn’t a steep enough curve of learning for me and others, Doug then presented some of his Cetti’s Warbler recordings, were he showed that every male Cetti’s Warbler has its own individual variation for its territorial song. I found this extremely interesting and thought it could make a good project for the WSRS members’ involvement, getting members to record Cettis in their areas, and thus potentially covering all of the UK. It would need a volunteer to co-ordinate the recordings and do some initial analysis work. ANY VOLUNTEERS? It could prove a very worthwhile research project for the WSRS to be associated with, something that has been lacking in the WSRS for a few decades.
We did not get much time to discuss equipment and its use. One particularly interesting bit of software was demonstrated by Bob. It was a novel bat detector that runs on an iPad and is produced by Wildlife Acoustics and runs with an Echometer App (attached are a couple of screen shots; visit their website for more information). Bob is finding it very good to use.
Screenshots of bat calls from Wildlife Acoustics’ Echometer app
The meeting was called to an end around 4.30pm, with all of us chatting about how worthwhile the day had been. There was a general enthusing over how good local meetings like this one are, and the wish that other groups of members could get their acts together and set some up. I believe the WSRS will pay for the hire of suitable meeting places and any sustenance for the day could be sorted out by individual members attending. The generosity of members like Bob and Margaret who made this local East Anglian meeting the success it was and has been for many years cannot be overstated. Thank you again.
The good news is that there will be another one in 2016, so get ready to mark it as an essential day out as soon as the date is known.